A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment

Archive for the category “Living Green”

Thinking outside the housing box!


Cities around the world are struggling with growing populations of homeless individuals and families. Also there is a large number of couch surfers, and young people moving back home, after having lived independently. In some cultures the tradition was to remain at home until marriage, but even that has begun to change in many countries. The challenge is providing a place where these people can live that is affordable.

Affordable housing is not emergency shelters, hostels or rooming houses in most countries. What is affordable housing defined as, depends on the country, Canada and the USA commonly defines it, as housing that does not exceed 30% of a families gross income. Australia defines it as a minimum of a 20% discount to the prevailing market rate for the area, for lower or middle income earners. The United Kingdom defines it as those households whose needs are not met by the market. India sets the definition at 40% or less of the household income.

Here in Vancouver Canada and indeed most of the major cities of Western Canada affordability comes at a high price. In February 2012 the Burn’s Block was renovated into micro lofts, of approximately 226 square feet each, which is considered small here in Canada, they were quickly snapped up at a price of $850/month utilities included for furnished suites.  The median cost of a 1 bedroom apartment within Vancouver is $1350/month utilities not included.

At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC Hydro showcased a home of the future with energy saving ideas and efficient design features. This inspired Atira a social housing society in Vancouver to think outside the box, in providing social housing at a cost of $82,000/unit for hard construction costs. This compares to $220,000 for just slightly larger units built by Atira in Vancouver, using more traditional methods. How did they keep the costs down, well they used standard shipping containers as the basis. Yup those ones you see around businesses, on trucks, trains and ships around the world as the building blocks. They have been used as site offices on construction sites for years, so it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine them as a shell for a house.

Could this be a way to help those in the lower income brackets of our societies have safe, affordable accommodation, time will tell, however it is a step forward.

For more information please visit the links below:

Story on the Burn’s Block

Containers as homes

Cost of living comparisons


Becoming Radical starts with Respect

When getting ready to make permanent changes in your life, you need to have a plan. After all you want these changes to be beneficial, not only for yourself, but everyone around you. Respect is a strong basis for the changes you are about to make. As I present these topics over the next several days, it’s not about following my thoughts to the letter, rather adopt what is useful, and make changes in a way that works for you.

Respect entails many directions, and all are equally valuable, because they are all part of the big picture. If you were born into an Asian family, respect for your parents was one of the first things you learned. You were also taught to show respect to elders, teachers, and many other groups. Respect for yourself is also taught, but with you as part of the whole, not with you at the center. You have an inherent dignity, by having been born a human. This inherent dignity is based, in the ability for self improvement, and altruism. Accepting that you are one, with all others, and we all share the same desires, leads us to consider the impact our choices will have on others. As you develop self control, and master your desires and thoughts, you are able to respect others, regardless of their circumstances, and to act from compassion, rather than competition.

Respecting others on an equal basis to us, leads to support of non-violence, support for human rights, and refusing to take part in discriminatory practices, whether based on sex, race, creed, or any other divisive practice. We cease to concern ourselves as citizens of a nation; rather we develop a global outlook, one humanity, and one planet. Where diversity is accepted and celebrated, while accepting the autonomy for people to make their own choices in live. Instead of accumulating for own use, we attempt to contribute to the benefit of all beings.

How do we start to develop this respect, for ourselves and others? You can start by practicing metta, or loving kindness towards yourself. http://rashmidevi.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/metta-bhavana-meditation/ is a recent WordPress blog post, which will give you basic instructions in how to start. Over time you may find yourself, less critical, more accepting of yourself, and others.

Respect also needs to include the world we live in. The air we breathe, the water that cleanses us, the earth that sustains us, as well as the diversity of life that shares this small ball in the heavens that we call home. This isn’t rushing out to buy the latest save the world technology; rather it begins with simple steps. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and regift where possible. Plan your trips if driving to maximize the stops in an efficient route, and if possible walk, cycle or use public transit. Buy smaller quantities if you find yourself throwing out perishables on a regular basis. Food waste is a serious problem, for a better understanding check out the following TED video.

Finally respect has to include the process of changing. Yes we are creatures that like what is. Our bodies fight to maintain the weight we are at, this is a genetic holdover from our hunter gatherer ancestors. So you might even say our weight gain, is all in our genes. If your change is eliminating something, such as smoking, drinking or other consumption issue, you will with all likelihood have physical and psychological cravings. So respect that change takes time, and will not always be easy, but it is attainable.

This series starts here.

Next will be Acceptance which goes hand in hand with respect.

Becoming a radical

Everyone I know, including myself has things about them they wish they could change. For some of us we want to lose weight, and every January the gyms fill up with new clients determined to lose that spare tire, yet for many by March the membership is just another piece of paper we carry around. For others, it’s to quit smoking, drinking, or to get more sleep, spend more quality time with our loved ones. For many, there are several changes, we wish to make.

Using the gym example, exercise alone won’t deliver the results you want. Go to the gym, watch these fitness types who burn off 500 calories in a workout, then walk over to the beverage counter, and polish off a smoothie with 600 calories. The key to achieving a healthy weight, is to make lifestyle changes that are maintainable, and not focus on short-term solutions. The changes in your diet, amount of water consumed, and getting  regular sleep will have more of an impact, than going to the gym.

Changing our lives isn’t easy for most of us. We want to spend more time with our family, but there’s always a need to pay for something. Keeping up with the Jonses, isn’t as easy as it was in the 60s or 70s. Today at work our bosses expect us to do more with less, be flexible, adaptive and get it done yesterday. So making a change in one area will lead to a ripple effect throughout our lives, so how do we manage the process to end up with a happier more fulfilling life, and make those who we love happier as well.

By becoming a Radical, yup it’s time to make a radical change in your life. No I’m not talking about changing your hair color, or covering up your gray hair. I won’t even recommend that you run off and join a monastery; it wouldn’t help unless you were ready for it. So what is radical, an approach based on Respect, Acceptance, Desire, Ingenuity, Compassion, Acknowledgement, Love.

So that’s what  will leave you with today, give you some time to think about being a radical, and what radical changes you want to make in your life. Tomorrow I’ll explain why respect is a fundamental principle, and what is entailed in making it work for you. Thereafter I’ll add one more section each day.

This isn’t a roadmap, rather the tools for you to find what works best for your situation. Each of us has different needs, and they change over time. What I needed as a teenager definitely wouldn’t do today. However these tools can help you suffer less, and make those around you happier through helping them to reduce their suffering.

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